Why is Trump Still Popular, It’s Easy

June 5, 2018

Legions of liberals scratch their heads when they see polling data that show President Trump’s approval rate over 40%. Despite the stupid tweets, the lies and exaggerations, the flaunting of the rule of law, the destruction of presidential norms of behavior, blatant corruption, and the embrace of public policies that isolate the United States and pose real dangers to our future as the leader of the free world, Trump trudges on not just with his base but also with independent-minded voters who are unwilling to denounce him and push for his removal from office.

So what’s going on here with the stability of the Trump approval? It is really quite easy. Trump supporters see more money in their paychecks, and some have seen bonuses or small increases in their salaries, jobs are so plentiful that workers can now pick and choose, the stock market despite regular ups and downs is generally on the uptick, inflation is minimal, and areas of the economy once viewed as dead are no longer on life support. As the Democratic strategist James Carvelle reminded Bill Clinton’s staff, ” It’s the economy, stupid.”

Although some in his administration and certainly those among the punditry have called him a “moron” or just plain “dumb”, Trump knows the current state of American political culture – flag waving patriotism, fear of minorities, militarism, disgust with political correctness, support for small town Americana, and hatred of the eastern and California elite. Somehow the Democrats forgot that our political culture can be defined by what the working class believes is what America stands for, not what the New York Times editorializes. Trump has tapped into this working class culture and is not afraid to use it to bludgeon the left. Few people read the Times but they do listen to the President.

Of course having an approval rating in the low 40% range means that somewhere in the 60% range Americans either despise Trump or have serious questions about where he is taking the country. But if liberals are to make any serious dent in that 40% they have to admit there are now two competing political cultures in our country and begin to make efforts to understand the Trump culture and where possible make efforts to offer realistic alternatives.

What does that mean – “realistic alternatives”? In no particular order liberals must tag Trump with the inevitable increases in health care premiums, offer a better package of tax cuts that puts more money in the pockets of working class people, stop making pro-choice the signature position of the left, forget the big cities and take bus rides to rural America for listening tours, show the American public that patriotism means more than the flag,  and last but not least ask Nancy Pelosi to retire.

The challenge of the liberals as they try to compete with Trumpism is like moving a huge aircraft carrier on a different course; for years liberals have forgotten that they were originally the party of the working man and woman and that their support came from the heartland. If the Democrats hold to their old model of politics the blue wave of November 2018 just may fizzle out as the economy hums along. Trump may yet set himself up for self-destruction, but the liberals must change or face their own self-destruction.

 

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The Madman Approach to Foreign Policy

May 15, 2018

Many foreign policy experts and media pundits are up in arms over the approach that President Trump has used in his dealings with North Korea and Iran. Trump has used outlandish name calling,  heavy-handed military threats, tough economic sanctions, and a willingness to take policy responses to the brink of hostilities, all in an effort to send a message to Kim Jong Un and the mullahs in Iran that the United States means business when it says that nuclear weapons will not be tolerated by these two members of the Axis of Evil.

Since this approach, which some have termed the “Madman” strategy, is the opposite of Obama’s “diplomacy of hope”, there is a natural fear among many in this country that Trump is not only pushing the foreign policy envelope but more seriously is taking this country down the road to war. By giving off the presidential vibe that the United States is willing to bring down the governments of North Korea and Iran, even if that means a military strike or perhaps even some sort of invasion, the president is sending the signal  that he must be viewed as unpredictable, perhaps even unhinged, and can’t be trusted to solve disputes and threats through conventional diplomacy.

Trump’s supporters and his foreign policy advisers likely wouldn’t use the term “madman” to describe the chief executive, but they clearly agree that the only way to deal with bad guys in the world is to scare the devil out of them with outrageous threats and tough name calling. As the argument goes, taking on the persona of a madman is more effective than diplomatic compromise that does little to change the behavior pattern of disruptive regimes. Scaring the regimes is the only way to get the attention of the bad guys and force them to renounce the way they operate on the international stage.

Trump is too narcissistic and arrogant to self-describe himself as a “Madman”. Yet he certainly relishes the tough guy approach to foreign policy that depends on tactics suitable for a leader who isn’t afraid to signal that he just might be a little unhinged and willing to take the ultimate risk in order to make his adversaries bend to his will.

Of course there is only one fatal flaw in the Madman approach to foreign policy – it could easily lead to war as adversaries call the Madman’s bluff or engage in tactics that avoid the prospect of regime change or modifications of behavior patterns. There is nothing inherently wrong with diplomacy,  negotiated solutions, compromise, consensus building, and moderate approaches to solving disputes; there are countless examples where these approaches have been effective. But we now live in the time of Madman foreign policy, which means we all need to pray that taking the country to the brink of war does not mean that the Madman takes us over the brink.

 


The Sources of our National Divide

May 7, 2018

As a result of responsible data collection, reasoned analysis from trusted public thinkers, and some old fashioned common sense from those with a keen historical sense it is now clear what has driven and continues to drive our terrible political polarization and unrelenting social anger. Let’s take a look at the sources of our national divide.

One of the primary foundations of our national divide is income inequality. The renowned French economist Thomas Piketty in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century  and University of Michigan social scientist Ronald Inglehart use a wealth of data to verify a twist on the old adage- the rich are getting richer the while rest of us are standing still. In the United States the top ten percent of Americans now take home nearly half of the national income. For the rest of Americans wage growth is relatively stagnant. There have been some recent small gains, but most of the working classes are pretty much where they were ten years ago. The nation’s largest employer, Wal-Mart, pays most of its workers in the $ 8-12 range. The United States is now one of the leading countries in terms of income inequality.

With that kind of pay inequality it is no wonder that people are angry as they live paycheck to paycheck and have to scrape together money in case of a family emergency, even as simple as paying the deductible for a car accident. That anger is part of the answer for Donald Trump’s base of support and the joy over the tax cut which put some money, usually a modest amount, in the pockets of the “forgotten Americans.” But a few more bucks in a paycheck is not going to ease the anger or solve our national division. That same Trump tax bill actually increased the gap between the rich and the working class and will continue widening the gap in the coming years.

Then there is the 21st Century equivalent of the industrial revolution – the information revolution. As documented by Walter Russell Mead in the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Affairs and Paul Krugman of the New York Times that smartphone or laptop may be a godsend to you and your family but it is part of a gigantic shift in how we work in this country.  Foreign trade is not putting people out of work, rather it is automation, all those mechanical robots on assembly lines, those cameras that have replaced toll takers, the swanky new garbage trucks that pick up the refuse without the help of two assistants, and computerized banking programs that have put tellers on the unemployment lines.  The list of automation destroying old line jobs is endless and will only grow in the coming years. It would be great if there was a public-private partnership to retrain workers in the new growth areas of work, but right now there is only anger and despair as the information revolution replaces the industrial revolution. The divide marches onward as more and more Americans blame somebody, anybody, usually a politician for their sad future. Of course the answer is in the willingness of people to adapt to a new age, but that is easier said than done.

Then there is the immigration/racial divide.  The history of this country has too often been defined by periods of anti-immigration nativism, racial animosity and plane old bigotry. From “No Irish Need Apply” to the Know-Nothing Party to the Neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville there has unfortunately been a strain of antipathy toward those who appear different and are not “American.” Trump used this antipathy for his benefit as he championed the wall, harshly criticized Muslim-Americans, and made clearly racially charged comments against African-Americans. He got the votes he wanted but in the process pushed this country into a national divide as too many of us forget how we became a great nation and how we often welcomed those “huddled masses longing to be free.” Sadly, it has become easier and easier to find a racial reason for our all that ails us, rather than see racial harmony as the key to building unity.

Finally, our national divide continues and even spreads because of our longing to return to the days of family, church and community of the 1950’s. Especially for those who were brought up in that era of calm and order, today with its open society of gay marriage, LGBT rights, recreational marijuana, pornography, violent video games, atheism, and a growing secular bent America is a place that is viewed as headed to hell in a hand basket unless we return to the old days when we didn’t have all these free thinking abominations. If we would only say Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays in order to accommodate those who make up a growing diverse nation, all would likely be better, at least that is the argument from  those who remember the Ozzie and Harriet 1950’s television show. But of course the 1950’s are not coming back – the family is in tatters, nearly 40% of young people are irreligious, and more and more people are holed up in their bunker homes afraid to become part of a vibrant community.

So what to do? Peace and unity are not around the corner. We will just have to struggle through this mess for a while, perhaps for another generation.  We just don’t have the political leaders or the political will to unify and compromise and find consensus. We very well could be headed to hell in a hand basket, but one thing to remember, this country, despite difficult times in the past, has always found a way to rebound from adversity. The American spirit may be in retreat but it is not dead and likely will re appear to bring us to a better day; it just won’t happen next year.

 


World’s Not So Great Democracy

April 19, 2018

Pundits and politicians, largely of the liberal persuasion, have been bemoaning for some time now the threat to democracy and democratic norms since the arrival of President Trump. Language such as ” democracy is under attack,” ” the rule of law is being compromised,” ” the first amendment guarantees have been weakened,” and traditional presidential conventions are being, ” abandoned,” fill the airwaves and print media. And then there is the Russian attack on the 2016 election, our most sacred foundation of democratic life.

And yet despite these outcries about the decline of democracy, President Trump’s popularity – never really outstanding – has not eroded below a consistent 40%; in fact as the economy moves forward, his popularity has picked up a few points in recent polls. Americans appear not to be overly upset about the signs of democratic demise.

So why the disturbing lack of interest by so many Americans in our apparent democratic decline? One possible answer is that the current state of our democracy is suffering from what some call a civic deficit or perhaps a more negative title – political illiteracy. Americans today are shockingly uninformed about their democracy and the democratic values that form the basis for our claim to be the world’s greatest people-based government.

For example, in recent studies researchers have found that only 34% of Americans know that there are three branches of government, a tiny percentage can name only one Supreme Court judge, while an overwhelming majority are clueless, over 200 million of our citizens believe our constitution is based on the Bible, even though God is not mentioned once in our sacred document, and a bare majority can name but one of the four freedoms contained in the 1st Amendment. What a dismal civic deficit scorecard! It is really next to impossible to defend our democracy if the citizenry has little understanding of what our democracy means, or how it runs, or what it stands for.

Correcting these glaring deficiencies in our civic deficit will not come overnight but action must be taken and soon. Here in Massachusetts there is a movement afoot to bring civic education into the classroom and teach the new generation of Americans what their democracy is all about. Through the efforts of organizations like Generation Citizen a bill is working its way through the legislature to begin addressing the civic deficit.  Called an Act To Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement the legislation is designed to direct a modest amount of taxpayer dollars – $ 1.5 million – to develop programs in our schools to promote civic learning in the classroom curriculum and to encourage project based activities to strengthen participation and involvement in the public life of each community. Eventually, civics like math, science and English would be required.

Knowing about democracy does not mean that Americans will automatically come to appreciate and protect their form of government from those who would weaken it. But knowledge can be transformed into power, the power to demand that elected officials never abandon what our founders and those who have died on the battlefield held as a precious gift worthy of protecting.

 

 

 

 


Trump – Trusting his Gut

March 13, 2018

The State Department is a shell of its former self, there are no ambassadors in key countries in Asia and the Middle East,  economic, domestic and foreign policy advisers in the White House who are level D minds keeps growing, and the lobbying swamp is not being drained but rather is filling up. What this country is left with is a president who now claims that it is better if he just trusts his gut when making important decisions. This is now what the term “unconventional president” has come to mean – play to your base, use Twitter to lash out at opponents, and allow a gigantic ego to control the direction of the country.

Apologists for the President and even some mainstream pundits are beginning to claim that the “unconventional president” is keeping his campaign promises, challenging national and international rules that have gone years without serious review, and playing the tough guy (or madman) in order to Make America Great Again.

But the world works, or a least has worked, since the end of World War II on a foundation of trust, cooperation, consensus, and mutual respect. While the stock market is erratic but upward bound, the economy is strong,  and unemployment is down, there is no doubt that the United States under President Trump has lost influence in the world and is fostering a climate of unilateral protectionism. If Trump’s developed a catch phrase for his ” gut ” policy perspective it would be The World Be Damned ( except Russia).

Following the ” gut ” and damning the world may sound good to those who live in a time long gone and think that policies are best defined as implemented on a foundation of testosterone. But we live in a time when the world is inter-connected, there are multiple powers around the globe, expert analysis and the truth still hold value, and relying on the “gut” is so filled with risk and miscalculation that one wrong move could spell economic, domestic and foreign policy disaster.

Those who support President Trump may feel a rush of energy and revenge when their guy takes on the establishment, but feeling good about ridiculing fake news, that weakling Obama or the globalists at the UN or the World Trade Organization does little to repair the damage to our international influence or reputation. What the “35 percenters” fail to realize is that feeling good is temporary, but losing influence and reputation to other world powers can easily be lasting. There is no doubt that the US is one of the richest country in the world and a major military power, but the US has slipped in so many socio-economic categories and most importantly is no longer as Ronald Reagan said, “that shining city on a hill,” Trusting your ” gut ” does not lead to a “shining city on a hill.”

 


Thankful for Small Favors

February 14, 2018

It should come as no surprise to anyone with an appreciation of how President Trump and the Republican Congress played the ” forgotten American” card and advanced what some have called a “peasants revolt” that poll numbers show a small but important spike in support for The Donald and the GOP. It all comes down to the simple fact that Americans got their tax cut reward in their take home pay.

It really makes no difference whether the reward was the $ 1.50 a week praised by Speaker Ryan or the more common $ 50-$100 bump a month for many working Americans. Progressives and leftist economists can point out until they are blue in the face that the tax cut is skewed toward the wealthy and big corporations, but most Americans have never really been upset over what the rich get out of tax cuts compared to what they receive in their pay envelope.  They are just thankful for small favors.

Democrats continue to fail at understanding the “forgotten” or the “peasants” and believe that harping on the inequality of the cuts will somehow weaken the Trump base and bring about the end of Trumpism. The response of the tax cuts to many Americans is simple human nature-more in my pocket is a good thing, less for the government is even better. The amount in the pocket is not as important as the fact that it is found money, a small favor.

Of course Trump and the Republicans are by no means out of the woods; there is the huge bump in the fiscal year deficit, the burgeoning national debt, the new signs of inflation, the wild ride of the stock market, and of course more stupid tweets and White House dysfunction. But again most Americans don’t sit up nights worrying about deficits, debts, inflation and the impact on their grandchildren; that extra cash in their pockets is what matters. I rarely run into someone who is even remotely concerned about the economic and financial impact of Republican tax policies on the security and lifestyle of their grandkids. It is much like the real threat from global warming – somehow the future will take of itself, what is important is the here and now.

The Democrats continue to show that they are riding the wave of rejection of Trump and the GOP but don’t count the Republicans out of the game as Trump and the conservatives will continue to play to the base by touting the tax cut. It just might work, especially if the Democrats forget what Clinton’s campaign adviser James Carville said, ” It’s the economy stupid.”

 


I Love Starbursts, Trump Candy

January 17, 2018

Against the better judgment of my daughter Kathy who is a nurse, I too often go down the candy aisle and throw a package of Starbursts into the shopping cart.  My favorite Starbursts are the the red ones – cherry and strawberry.  I know they are not good for me, but my will power against sugar is weak.

So when I heard that Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority Leader, sought to gain the attention and support of President Trump by sending him a whole candy bowl of red Starbursts, I was immediately conflicted.  I understand the attraction of the “reds”, but I was worried that gaining the ear of a president by giving him candy is to say the least troublesome.

Now every president has their weak spots and preferences whether it is cute puppies, high end Scotch or beautiful blondes, but the candy strategy is a new one and says a lot about how to get to the President when important matters are on the line. President Trump is not known for following a healthy diet, but the Starburst caper reveals that our president may make allies based on shallow if not juvenile gift giving.

McCarthy to his credit realized that to get to the President’s ear policy presentations and issue discussions are not the road to victory; the President rarely reads, has a short attention span and gets his information from Fox and Friends. The policy and issue key may now be candy not reasoned debate. It is abundantly clear that challenging the President in public, questioning his veracity or worse yet failing to stroke his ego can only lead to a quick turnaround in promised legislation or a public Twitter attack, so why not try Starbursts as the path to effective executive-legislative relations.

The Democrats have been bemoaning the fact that President Trump doesn’t play fair and can’t be a reliable legislative partner, but what they should have done is feed his sweet tooth or his stomach. Maybe Nancy Pelosi should be sending the President Big Macs everyday or Minority Leader Schumer might drop by a case of Diet Cokes. It’s worth a try since traditional bipartisanship is going nowhere fast.

There is one certainty in all this Starburst strategy and that is those little red squares of sugar will either become highly popular or drop off as part of the candy elite. I know that I will put aside my politics and keep buying Starbursts, despite their use as a key to presidential access and ego stroking. Who would have thought that the issues of national concern were nothing but candy.